It came to me a few nights ago, as I was doing my weekly Internet radio talk show. I was expressing my frustration with the way GLAAD has been handling the issue of anti-transgender slurs being thrown around by gay male actor RuPaul on RuPaul's Drag Race, his television show on the LOGO network.
In earlier instances of similar behavior by straight celebrities, GLAAD's reaction had been lightning-quick and often drew a response within a day or two. This time, however, nearly two weeks went by before GLAAD even issued a "we're working on it" public statement on Facebook through board co-chair Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the statements which were eventually issued by LOGO and the show's producers were tepid and non-committal.
Indeed, these pathetic and banal press releases, issued in the wake of an ongoing public display of anti-trans bigotry, can't help but encourage me to conclude that these people don't really believe that they're doing anything wrong, nor do they have any intention of changing in any substantial way.
It's not really hard to understand why RuPaul and Viacom, the parent company of LOGO, apparently aren't feeling much pressure from GLAAD on this. After all, it's got to be hard to take it seriously when an organization that wants you to refrain from using anti-trans slurs on your show was giving you an award for that very same show just a few short years ago.
In 2010, RuPaul's Drag Race won the GLAAD Award for "Best Reality Program", and in 2012, two ads starring former contestants were nominated for an "Amplifier Award". Exactly what these ads were supposed to be amplifying, other than LGBT alcohol consumption rates, remains unclear.
But for awhile now, GLAAD has been making a significant, highly visible effort to become both more inclusive and supportive of the trans community, and frankly, doing a pretty damn fine job of it. Not only has GLAAD been doing a lot to promote trans people and issues in the media, they've put highly qualified trans people on their board: bestselling trans author Jennifer Finney Boylan, renowned trans surgeon Dr. Marci Bowers, ESPN.com writer Christina Kahrl, and trans woman Lana Moore. HRC could take some lessons from these folks.
During the show, I opined mid-rant that the difference between the way GLAAD usually deals with overt anti-LGBT bigotry in the media and the way they are handling this RuPaul situation is so stark that it's like comparing the behavior of two completely different organizations.
Upon later reflection, I realized that I'd hit upon the most likely scenario: the new GLAAD -- the actively trans-inclusive, trans-supportive one -- is locked in heated internal combat for the soul of the organization with the old GLAAD -- the gay-celebrity-worshipping organization focused and funded by rich white gays and lesbians.
The old GLAAD is the one that knew exactly what RuPaul was doing, knew he'd been doing it for years (I first wrote about the issue in 2012), and chose to ignore his weekly serial violations of the GLAAD Media Reference Guide after giving him an award previously.
Given all that, I think it was kind of a shock for the trans community to see GLAAD get all wobbly and weak in the knees when trans women began calling out RuPaul and his show and demanding that GLAAD stand with us against his use of anti-trans slurs. This organization has spent the last couple of years telling the trans community that things are different now and we can count on them to fight for us. Yet, the very first time they're called upon to take on one of those gay celebrities they love to shower with awards at their galas, all of a sudden they curl into a ball and go silent for two weeks.
Not a good look for you, girlfriend.
What I think we're seeing right now is GLAAD's moment of truth. They've confronted LOGO and the producers of Drag Race, and come away with virtually nothing -- no promises of change, not even as little as a simple apology, just bland PR-shop boilerplate public statements that offer a righteously aggrieved community exactly nothing.
GLAAD has two choices at this point:
- They can choose to drop out of this fight, meekly and quietly, knowing full well that others will pick up the baton and continue the fight against transphobic bigotry in the media even when - in fact, especially when - it's spewing from a rich gay media celebrity.
- Alternatively, GLAAD can choose to honor their mission as well as their own media guide and stand with trans women in drawing a hard and clear line between what's considered acceptable and what's seen as anti-trans bigotry in the media. Further, they can use their expertise and resources to help lead this effort, regardless of who it happens to inconvenience.
Unlike the incidents with Piers Morgan, Greg Grunberg, and so many others, the lines that must be drawn here are crystal-clear and have been for some time now. Just as it's not credible for RuPaul and his staff or a network like LOGO to try to claim they're "newly sensitized" to the offense taken by trans women to the use of words which have been considered to be anti-trans slurs for years (and in the case of "she-male," well over a decade), there's no credible middle ground for GLAAD to inhabit on this issue.
GLAAD must stand up and continue this fight with us, just as vigorously as they would in any other case of anti-LGBT bigotry in the media, or the organization must concede that they are unwilling to stand up to the anti-trans bigotry of popular gay celebrities like RuPaul. If they choose to do so, GLAAD must also accept that the leadership of this battle will be taken out of their hands, and it will likely emerge from behind closed doors and into the streets.
We've seen it happen before. In 2007, the Human Rights Campaign, an organization with a very similar history to GLAAD's regarding trans inclusion, discovered what happens when trans people come to the conclusion that the only organizations which we can truly count on to fight for us are our own.
It's time for the folks at GLAAD to decide, once and for all, what's really most important to them: the goodwill of media executives and celebrities like RuPaul or the trust and respect of the trans community they've pledged to serve and represent. Given the way this has played out so far, I don't believe they're going to be able to hang on to both.
Here's hoping the good guys win this one.